Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 16, 2017

That Library Book’s Already Written: Don’t Write More in It!

My message today requires only a few words to sum up:

Don’t write in your library books!

But people do it. Exactly why escapes me. They’re not going to have the books around to consult later. Have they not a scrap of paper on which to take notes?

For example, recently I borrowed Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from the library. I was having fun on my own behalf, but also preparing my annual SGGK blog post as well as finding background for the ongoing “Bigge Sleepe” story many of you have been reading here.

Here’s a partial scan of 2 of the 9 pages of notes I made in my composition book.

nixon-armitage-sggk-notes

(BTW, the star near the top left marks ll 1686ff that are central to The Bigge Sleepe.)

I didn’t write in the library’s book. I need those notes, and the library (and my fellow readers) don’t want my scribbles in their book.

The 2 most recent books I’ve read from the library, just in the past week, were both marked up: red and black ballpoint pen and yellow and pink (!) highlighter.

Here are two pages from Graham Greene’s The Comedians.

g-greene-comedians-3

g-greene-comedians-139

Here’s a detail of a page from Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

m-chabon-pittsburgh-11

The Chabon book has been in the library since 1988, and could’ve acquired those highlights (and there are many more) any time in the past 28 years. That copy of The Comedians only entered the library in 2013, but is already thoroughly (as well as messily) marked in red and black ink, throughout.

Shameful. Rude, crude and unacceptable.

I’m certain this has happened to you. On top of defacing someone else’s book, the underlining, highlights, marginal comments, circles and whatever else — almost invariably — reflect a person who doesn’t understand the book, the author’s vocabulary, and is apparently unfamiliar with place names, foreign names or general information that even a beginning reader should be able to retain in memory.

Who are these people?

It’s nothing new. There are accounts of defaced pages even in manuscripts before the days of movable type. It’s apparently a deep-seated human urge. The critic Clive James has written compellingly, making the case for writing in one’s own books — aggressively and with great abandon. He says that one isn’t truly reading if one isn’t writing in the margins, underlining and so forth.

Fine. I happen to agree. But I’ll bet Mr. James doesn’t check books out of the British Museum (where I assume he has privileges) and mark THEM up.

There’s nothing to be done but sigh. I realize I’m simply venting, but I know I can rely on my literate, educated and genteel readers to empathize. If you have a suggestion about how to combat this curse, I welcome comments, but uncivil behavior will always be with us.

Do what you can. Do not allow your children, your friends or your brother-in-law to write in their library books.

And if you catch your mother writing in HER library books, take her library card away and give her a good talking-to.

Thanks for lending a sympathetic ear. I’m taking my latest library book (so far, happily unmarred) off to bed.

NOTE: Reader Feisty Froggy (a librarian), added this comment:

Libraries differ somewhat as to how they handle things like writing, highlighting, etc. but patrons should be aware that libraries can and sometimes do charge fines and/or book replacement charges depending on the extent of the damage.
At the Fulton County (Indiana) Public Library all materials are examined before being checked out and also when they are returned. By doing this, we will be aware of exactly WHO did the damage and that person may or may not be fined for it.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Reproductions and texts of The Comedians, © Graham Greene, 1966 (Penguin Books, 2005 edition); The Mysteries of Pittsburgh © Michael Chabon 1988 (William Morrow and Company).

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Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this post! It always amazes me how people will treat someone else’s property.

    Since we are venting today, I am putting on my library worker’s hat, and adding other defamation no no’s to the list for how NOT to treat a library book:

    1. Don’t use a black sharpie (or any other color) to cross out words that you personally find offensive.
    2. Don’t use the pages as a coloring book for your toddler.
    3. Don’t let your dog, cat, or toddler use the book as a teething device.
    4. Don’t rip out whole pages or sections of pages because you want to remember the information or have a recipe handy.
    5. Don’t dog ear, fold, or otherwise reposition library book pages; especially do not reposition pages or covers with glue or tape.

    Yes, ALL of the above has happened along with many other types of things, but I’d say the above items plus the writing/highlighting in the books are the most common.

    Libraries differ somewhat as to how they handle things like writing, highlighting, etc. but patrons should be aware that libraries can and sometimes do charge fines and/or book replacement charges depending on the extent of the damage.

    At the Fulton County Public Library all materials are examined before being checked out and also when they are returned. By doing this, we will be aware of exactly WHO did the damage and that person may or may not be fined for it. There are some exceptions where books may have been donated and might have say some scribbling on a blank page in the front of the book where it doesn’t adversely affect the reading of the book. In cases like those, a note will be put on the item so that it appears at check out and we will know that we checked it out to the patron that way so that a patron isn’t wrongly charged for damage he/she didn’t do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Argh. Actually, The Counselor and I speculated that some books may have entered the collection as donations, previously marked-in. I’ve put in an inquiry to one of our librarians to ask if that may be the case. However, the conditions of the two books in this post suggest they were more marked-up than would be acceptable. AND, we wondered about the possibility that libraries might examine returned books known to be in previously good condition and levied fines in some case. Worth knowing. Thanks very much for the information from a librarian’s point of view.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome…and yes, the books you showed are definitely in unsatisfactory condition for circulation. I hope I didn’t take up too much “venting” space! 😉

        Liked by 1 person


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